Global TV Tech Buzz: Back To School/Work Apps

It’s not just back-to-school season, it’s back-to-work season. A long summer of vacations and stuttering and stopping with overlapping schedules is coming to an end, and it’s safe to say it’s almost like the “office new year” starting this week.

So whether it’s a new grade, new class, or new fiscal starting up, here are a series of apps to help you get on board with GTD – that’s not Gym. Tan. Drinking. I’m talking about Getting. Things. Done.

CourseNotesMac App Store / iOS App Store ($3.99):
The days of carrying around different notebooks for each class are long gone. With CourseNotes, you can take notes on your MacBook Air and access them on the go from your iPad. You can even track assignments and sync due dates with your calendar, and quickly search through all of your notes. You can also dump them to Dropbox of Facebook to share with friends.

A few weeks ago we talked about whether or not you can use a tablet to take notes in class, this app is great because it can sync across iOS and your MacBook, and is available in both the iOS and Mac App stores.

pomodorablePomodorableMac App Store ($4.99):
This is a Mac App that is going to use a ninja approach to help you GTD – get things done. The Pomodoro Technique is a task management approach that breaks things up into 25 minute sections and forces you to take breaks. It was named after a little tomato timer, a pomodoro. The Pomodorable app helps you with the Pomodoro Technique in a digital way. It takes some commitment, but those who use it swear by it.

iTunes UiOS App Store (free):
You don’t have to be going back to school to go back to school. iTunes U is a HUGE library of course materials from Universities around the world that you can take – for free. If you’re stuck in a long commute on the C-Train everyday, or if you have an hour to kill while the kids are at hockey or swimming or gymnastics every night, why not go to school. You can audit classes from Stanford, or Yale, or MIT – all on your iPad or iPhone. It’s genius.

Graphing CalculatoriOS App Store ($1.99):
Now I don’t know how many profs will let you bring an iPhone in to a test situation, but I do remember how much a scientific calculator cost when I was heading to university. It was always one of the bigger line items in my student budget, now you can get it done for $2. It does all the fancy calculus stuff that nobody expects you to work out in your head, just don’t expect to necessarily be able to use it for your test.

iBooksiOS App Store (free):
If you are taking classic literature courses, remember a lot of those books are public domain. You don’t need to go and buy the Penguin Classic paperbacks, many times you can get them from free in the iBooks Store – so double check. This advice also holds true if you prefer a Kobo, Kindle, or other eReader.

MintMac App Store / iOS App Store (Free):
Here’s an app that Alberta’s Finance Minister, Doug Horner, might find useful. Mint is an award winning budgeting app that tracks all your money coming in, going out, and gives you updates on your budgetary situation. For students on tight budgets, this is a great tool to help you manage your money. It’s also very useful for families, or perhaps even government officials. Warning – you do need to give it a lot of your banking information to make it work and some may not be comfortable with that. More than 8 million people use it, you can take that for a lot of suckers, or it’s very trustworthy.

Since we talked about all apps this week, here’s an iOS tip for an app you already have. Reminders has a great little function in it that will give you a nudge when you go or leave a place. Need to remember to pick up milk on the way home from work? Set a note that when your phone leaves the office (presumably with you) a ping will come up reminding you to get the milk. Similarly, if there’s something you need to ask a client at a future meeting, just set the reminder for their address and the notification will pop up. Here’s a good how-to for geofenced reminders.

Global TV Tech Buzz: Home Decorating Apps

Houzz is a free, targetted version of Pinterest. Flipping through the app you will see nothing but beautiful interior design images. You can find specific pricing and purchase info on some items or save the pictures you like for further reference. More than 65 000 design professionals have uploaded about half a million images to the site and app that is described simply, as house porn.

A spin-off to Houzz exists for just kids. Houzz Kid Rooms will have you planning nurseries and beyond for hours.

Finding the perfect colour palette for your room can be a challenge. If you’ve got a place you’d like to start, Color Smart by Behr and Benjamin Moore Color Capture each have colour capture apps to get you started. Both apps simply let you take a picture of the object, and then it will match the colour exactly with one from their library.

Be sure to have the best light possible when you take the picture, remember you’re just using a camera phone. While both apps are very similar, I like the layout and use of the Behr app better.

If a more detailed renovation is underway this summer, taking accurate measurements Magic Plan is a great free app that will let you grab complete floor plans of your rooms so you can plan out furniture purchases, or designs. You could also use this app to compare homes you’re touring and looking at buying.

magic plan screen shot

If you’re doing a full scale reno and need some specific measurements to take to a store for advice, Photo Measures [$4.99] lets you take a picture of, say, your kitchen cabinets, and drop in the specific measurements right on the photo. It’s an easy way to keep what you need sorted so you can easily reference it at the design centre, at the store, or with your contractor.

If you’re out house hunting this weekend, just start by driving around a neighborhood you like. The free app will geolocate you, show you the listings nearby, the open houses nearby, and then kick open the MLS page with the details. I love snooping on the neighbours and what they have their houses listed for, this app lets me do that from the kitchen table :)

amazing alexAPP OF THE WEEK:
The sequel to Angry Birds has arrived from the gang at Rovio. Amazing Alex (99c) is a fun physics based game that borrows from a few other popular apps. It’s a little bit of Bubble Ball, Civiballs, and Cut The Rope all rolled in to one. You help Alex set up fantastic apparatus in his room to get balls and balloons from A to B. It’s not quite Angry Birds addicting, but it is a fun game to kill a few minutes, and my 5 yr old loves it.

Global TV Tech Buzz: How To Travel Smartly With Your Smartphone

The news cycle is littered with stories of people who take their smartphones on vacations only to come back to bills worth thousands of dollars for the data they consumed abroad.

Alanna Fero, for example, took her iPhone to Egypt and downloaded about 1.6 gigs of data while pyramiding. She came home to a $37 000 bill.

Yes, that’s ridiculous. The best part of the story is Telus turned her data off because of the high usage while roaming, and she asked them to turn it back on. She cried poor to the news media when she returned and got little sympathy from savvy internet users.

There are ways, however, to travel smartly with your smartphone: make sure data roaming is turned off, prebuy a travel data plan for your trip, unlock your phone and buy a local plan, or simply leave the phone at home.

First and foremost is to turn off data roaming. It should be off by default, but check your settings to make sure that roaming is turned off. If you live near a border town, you might have your phone skip to foreign towers. When you’re flying, the phone will be trying to connect to the ground, and the moment you land all those emails will come flooding in. Having data roaming turned off will keep the dam the flow data until you are ready to let it loose.

If you’re just taking a quick trip to Las Vegas, or Phoenix for the weekend and want to have enough power to phone your friends on the trip, send texts, and grab a few tweets, look into a prepaid plan. I spent $100 on one when I went to Vegas in January for CES. It was enough for me to last the week and get my emailing, tweeting, and texting done from the show floor.

Prepaid data, text, and voice plans aren’t cheap, but they’re cheaper than coming home to a huge phone bill. The rates for each carrier vary, call your customer service rep to ask them what they can offer you based on what you plan to use while away.

iphone sim cardUNLOCK YOUR PHONE
Unlocking your phone changes the baseband of your device to work with any mobile carrier. When you first buy your phone, it is locked to the provider.

Canadian providers will now unlock your mobile phone with a simple phone call to customer service. Each provider has different rules. Some will only unlock phones on contract. Some will only unlock phones out of contract. Some will require you to pay the remaining subsidy. On average, a base rate for unlocking your phone is $50.

Call your provider’s customer service representative to find out the requirements for your specific phone.

Once your phone is unlocked, you can now replace the SIM with a pre-paid one at your destination. Many travel forums are filled with advice on how to find a local provider with a good plan, sometimes you’ll even be able to find them in the airport of your destination. Buy the SIM, load up with pre-paid minutes or data, and you’ll even get a local phone number to blend right in.

For example, my travel data package to Iceland would be $225 for 75 megabytes of data. By paying the $50 fee to unlock my iPhone 3G, I’m now able to buy a prepaid SIM card data plan from Siminn, for $15 including 3 gigs of data.

Of course the simplest solution is to leave the phone at home. Enjoy your vacation, the email can wait.

parks canada learn to camp appAPP OF THE WEEK: Parks Canada’s Learn To Camp
If you really want to unplug, it’s time to go camping. If you’re new to the ‘sport’, check out Parks Canada’s Learn to Camp app.

It’s the ideal app for first-time campers who want to plan a trip to Canada’s national parks. It is packed with the information you need to make your first camping trip a success: camping basics and insider’s tips, packing checklists, national park information and recipes and cooking advice. This app is the perfect companion to the annual Learn to Camp events that take place at national parks and national historic sites across Canada.

Global TV: The Instagram Deal and Alternatives

instagram alternatives

Facebook bought Instagram for $1B this week. For a company that was barely 500 days old and had only 13 employees, that’s a lot of money.

Instagram had something Facebook needed – a mobile strategy. Facebook had something Instagram needed – a monetization scheme.

The general consensus is Facebook bought Instagram to get a hold of the user generated data that accompanies our pictures. Many photos are geotagged with the exact time and place they were taken. Facebook has struggled with its Places function to get people to “check in”. Now, with something like Instagram in the fold, Facebook will know exactly where and when you were. Why? To better service you ads, of course.

People love Instagram for two reasons: photos are easy to share, photos are easy to make beautiful. You can create and follow a social network on Instagram to browse photos, but you can also add all sorts of filters and frames to your images to make the otherwise low light, blurry image something more artsy

So now that Instagram is in Facebook, if you don’t want Facebook to know the where and when you are, but still want to easily share images that look great, here are 3 alternatives you can use:

Hipstamatic [$1.99]
This app emulates an old school camera. You dont see a full screen when you’re taking a picture. You have to load film, and choose lenses and flashes. Unlike Instagram, you dont get to do much editing after the fact, the picutre you take is the picture you get – the app even takes some time to “develop” your image, so it’s not an instant gratifier. The images it produces are artsy, much like the Instagram shots, but each “pack” is an in-app purchase for 99c.
There’s also a print option, where you can order your images to be printed, right from the back of the phone.

Camera+ [99c]
This app has become my camera. Taking a picture is simple, and the post photo editing has many options. From dozens of filters, to cropping, and editing – this lets met quickly and easily do everything I want with my photos. It also has easy sharing to your favorite social networks

Camera Awesome [free]
This recently released app from SmugMug falls along the lines of a camera bag replacement. You can access 36 filters for free, and in-app purchases can expand your editing capabilities. The app also features an “awesomize” button which promises to do all the heavy lifting for you and process a perfect image if you dont want to edit on your own. A ‘time machine’ is included in this app that brags it records video for 5 seconds before you press the button. Full export to social networks is supported.

Pinweel [free]
This is probably closest to the model of Instagram. It’s built around social sharing of photos. You’re prompted to create an album and sort your images before you even take one. Once you take a photo you can choose a variety of filters (like on Instagram) and then your images and albums are viewable by the public, or your contacts, depending how you adjust your privacy. There’s also easy sharing to Twitter and Facebook.

8mm [$1.99]
As a bonus, if the artistic filters of these photo apps is what attracts you to them, try 8mm for the video buttons on your iPhone, iPod and iPad.

If you missed the segment, here’s the video:

55 Apps To Preload For Kids

The surveys are in and kids want something from Apple for Christmas.

If you’re obliging them with an iPod Touch or the family an iPad, don’t just give them the box to open on Christmas morning. Pre-load it with a few apps, so there’s something to do.

The devices come built in with stock charts, email, and a camera, but that doesn’t cut it on Christmas Day

Here’s a list of 55 apps to get on your kids’ iDevice before they unwrap the excitement.

Tickle Tap Apps has over a dozen apps that they bundle into collections [$3.99 each] of fun games that are perfect for toddlers.  They’re interactive and make silly sounds.  They help them count, explore, sort and laugh.

grover.jpgThe Monster At The End Of This Book [$3.99] and the sequel Another Monster At The End Of This Book [99c] are must installs if you have children under 5.  My two boys play them over and over and over again.  The classic book starring Grover (and the sequel with Elmo joining) is beautifully re-imagined as an interactive story.  You still “turn” pages, but the way interaction has been woven into the game is hours of giggling fun for the kids.

Another incredible book app is The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore. [$4.99]  It’s a book that reads like a Pixar movie and each page has another interactive element for the kids to take part or a puzzle to solve.  This one has been “read” dozens of times by my boys.

Wood Puzzle Maze HD is a great old school toy given the iPad app [$1.99] experience.  Your child can practice problem solving with over a dozen different mazes that have them dragging puzzle pieces on a board as if it was a slot wood puzzle.  My boys took to this app immediately doing them over and over and over again.

Balloonimals brings the fun of our favorite family restaurant to our own kitchen table for $1.99 (or a free trial app).  All you have to do is choose a balloon, blow on the microphone and shake and twist the device to make your own Balloonimal.  You can touch them to perform tricks and of course pop them to start fresh again.

Buld A Train is a fun way to play witih an old school train set anywhere. Your kids choose the engines and cars they want on their train and then can swipe through a variety of track environments from mountains to islands to towns and cities.  They control the speed and the horn as the train travels in loops. They can even flick the switches to change the path of the train to pick up and deliver cargo.  Recent updates to this app make it worth the $1.99

For more, check out the 36 apps I use the most on my devices.

This article was originally published at The Future Shop’s Tech Blog.

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